From the Wood Hole Oceanographic Institute:
An ongoing collaborative effort by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (UMassD), and Providence Public Library (PPL), has received a grant from Rhode Island-based FM Global, an insurance company that has focused on research and science-based ways to mitigate property risk for years.
Over the next three years, FM Global is providing $450k total to PPL, of which WHOI will receive $175k total from PPL as a subaward for its climate research component of the project. UMassD will receive $75K total for coordination and oversight of the archival research component.
The project is investigating the role of historical weather data in current climate change research, and the increasingly urgent issues surrounding it. Investigators will do so through the review and extraction of weather observations from thousands of centuries-old records.
First developed in 2019 by Dr. Caroline Ummenhofer, WHOI oceanographer and climate scientist, and Dr. Timothy Walker, a maritime historian at UMassD, the project focuses on extracting weather data from whaling ship logbooks dating as far back as the late 1700s. This data will then be analyzed in order to make it comparable to modern weather readings, which will help address contemporary questions of climate change.
“This funding will greatly aid us in transferring qualitative descriptions to quantitative weather data for scientists to use in their studies, for example to detect shifting wind and pressure patterns with climate change,” said Ummenhofer.
“We want to gain a better understanding of how past climate and weather changes can be connected to present day changes,” added Walker. “We have more than 5,000 logbooks that will provide valuable information.”
“We have long known that the historical information contained in PPL’s Nicholson Whaling Collection is extremely valuable and we are excited for this partnership and that the Library’s vast collection of nearly 800 digitized whaling logbooks will be mined for this important research,” said Jordan Goffin, Head Curator of Collections at PPL.
“During the decades over which this collection was built, cataloged, and digitized no one involved expected it would be used for critical research like this. The current project is a testament to the enduring and evolving power of historical artifacts.”
The goal of the project is to help scientists understand weather patterns over past centuries, which is useful for modern ocean navigation, commerce, supply chain planning, coastal management, and national defense. Putting extreme events, like severe storms, into a long-term context is one of the main goals of this project, to better help vulnerable communities plan for extreme weather disasters in the future.
Ummenhofer and Walker have successfully completed the project’s foundational first phase: refining data collection processes, creating an online data collection tool, and kicking off the first year of the data mining portion, with support from the National Science Foundation.